by Sue Favor
Los Angeles, Calif. – The Los Angeles Sparks redeemed themselves from an embarassing loss the night before by crushing the San Antonio Silver Stars, 84-48, on Saturday night.
Nneka Ogwumike lead five Sparks in double figures with 16 points and seven rebounds, while Jantel Lavender added 14. Danielle Adams and Shenise Johnson had 12 and 11 points for the Silver Stars, respectively.
Sparks coach Carol Ross was pleased with their effort.
“It was a great victory,” she said. “The team came out with great intensity and they fought from start to finish. It was a complete team contribution.
“What a difference 24 hours does make.”
Los Angeles began the game on a 10-0 run before San Antonio kicked into gear. The Sparks shot 51 percent to the Stars’ 30 percent to take a 35-28 lead into the halftime break. But this time, instead of melting down in the second half as they did in Phoenix the previous night, Los Angeles heated up and outscored the visitors 26-8 in the third quarter. Candace Parker lead the run with nine points.
The fourth quarter was more of the same, with the Sparks shooting 69 percent and outscoring the Stars 23-12 using bench players. Both Ross and team members said they were showing their true capabilities.
“I think this was an indication of how great we can play when we come out focused and have an aggressive mentality,” guard Alana Beard said. “This is what we work on everyday in practice and today it finally translated to a game. If we can continue to build on this, I think we’re headed in the right direction.”
Stars coach Dan Hughes said his team was simply outplayed.
“You’ve got to give LA credit – they were better prepared, they were tougher. They played well and we didn’t,” he said. “They were aggressive, they were tough-minded, and I don’t think we were. We didn’t match it. I thought we hung in there in the first half, but even then I didn’t feel good. In the second half there was a separation.”
In Phoenix Friday it was a similar game, with Los Angeles on the losing side. The Mercury used strong third and fourth quarters to pound the Sparks 97-81. A long team meeting ensued afterwards. Ross said much was discussed.
“Talk is cheap, but the bottom line is our actions need to change,” she said. “It was the player’s decision. They came together and said, ‘this is how we’re going to play.'”
Ogwumike said the players had a meeting. Taking initiative and not stagnating was just one topic.
“We kind of lost our identity,” Ogwumike said. “We’re (now) focusing on trying to be that tough team that we are, to be those players we know that we can be, because we don’t want to be known as players that can be pushed around. So I think we’re really focusing on bringing that toughness to every game.”
Ogwumike said Sparks players were apalled at their own performance against the Mercury, because it didn’t represent them.
“We practice harder against each other than we played in the game last night, and we don’t want that to happen,” Ogwumike said. “Practice is supposed to be for the games, so we were disappointed in ourselves, in how we played.”
Though pleased, Ross is not yet convinced that the 3-2 Sparks are really on the right track now.
“I asked them, ‘is this a response to a butt whipping in Phoenix or a butt-whipping in the locker room, or is this closer to being who we are?'” she said. “So it remains to be seen: is this who we are, or is this a response?”
Ross said being great takes sustained effort over time.
“I think this is what we can be, but one game does not a champion make. It’s a process, but we have to be able to back this up and continue to hold each other accountable in a way where we expect great things from each other all the time,” Ross said.
“It’s got to be a sustained effort. It’s not easy to be great – it takes a lot of work and effort. I think they saw that if they give that, this is what you get: a great result.”
The Stars were playing without leading rebounder Jayne Appel, who is injured. The Sparks’ injury list included Lindsey Harding and Jenna O’Hea.
Los Angeles has has much time between games, which is a trend that continues this week, as they next fact Minnesota on Friday